Sunday, April 11, 2010

Attaching Zippers to Longarm Leaders

***please note - while the information contained in this post is still useful I no longer carry zippers for longarms. Unfortunately I do not have a referral source. Karen 3.1.16***

This Sunday afternoon was my designated day to straighten my take up leaders on my A1 Quilting Machine and add zippers, as it's technically 'my day off' and the only day the frame wasn't loaded with a quilt (grin). So naturally I decided that I really should do a documentation of my actions, who knows who it might benefit!

I've given you a very wordy description of what I did and at the end of this ramble a very amateur video actually showing what I'm trying to hopefully the combination of pictures, words, and voice visual will be beneficial. At least I tried (grin).

For the record, my machine is almost 5 years old. I originally had a set of zippers attached to my leaders (that I'd done, but not as neatly as this go-around), but opted to remove them after the Houston Quilt Festival for the latest craze of Velcro leaders.

Hum. Honestly, I hated the Velcro.

Wasted time, wasted money. Lesson learned.

First of all, it was a unnecessary adjustment to my machine - somehow I forgot the simple truth of if it's not broke don't fix it! . One reason I don't like Velcro is that it's always wadding up and getting stuck on something other than what I wanted it to stick to. I know I know, there's the argument that you can make adjustments to make sure your quilt is lined up, but I have decided that the best way to line things up is to have the accuracy of the teeth of the zipper matching one side to the other, besides, zipping up is quicker than trying to fussy place the Velcro to match...anyway, these are just a few of my reasons for wanting to go back to if you are considering zippers here's a tutorial of how I put mine on this afternoon. Can't say I'm an expert, but I've done it twice now and this time was easier, better, and it's staying put! I'm sold on zippered leaders.

If you have a longarm then you are aware that most machines have three take up rollers with attached canvas leaders. (If you don't have one you probably won't make it to the end of this post...however, for grins you might like to watch the video). Generally we pin the quilt backing to two of the rollers and pin the bottom of the quilt top to the third (or some prefer not to use this third roller and do a "full float" - but that's a topic for debate another day)....the reason for zippered leaders are numerous, but most like the convenience of being able to remove a quilt without having to unpin and then being able to return that same quilt back to the frame again without having to repin, thus saving countless hours...why would you remove a quilt? perhaps you are working on one that demands a lot of time consuming custom work and you want to squeeze in a quick baby quilt so you remove the one to add the other, or perhaps you had a major boo-boo and need to do a lot of frogging (rip it rip it), much easier to take off the frame and sit on the couch for this task...more than likely it's just the convenience of having another quilt prepared and ready to zip on when the first one comes off - some like to pin, others like to baste with their domestic machines or even a Cover Pro machine (I purchased one at Festival and have good intentions of learning to use this! I've been promised a lesson with a friend I hope to visit next month - so watch for this rambling). However you like to do it, you've got to have the zippers attached to your canvas leaders and for the most part, this task of installing is up to you, the machine owner as I'm not aware of any quilting machine manufacturer that offers zippered leaders..

Okay, so on with the instructions! First of all I cut off the offending Velcro - literally just cut my canvas and started over. I'd dare say this won't be your first step (grin) but the next part is important. Take a look at the top photo, you will notice that I have pinned a small width of 108" fabric between my backing take up rollers - I call them the top backing leader and bottom backing leader. If your canvas leaders are somewhat stretched now is a good time to take a spray bottle with a little distilled water and lightly mist the canvas. Let it dry while you finish reading my ramble, this will help draw the stretched canvas back into shape. After it's dry you are ready to jump right in and follow this tutorial.

Once the fabric is pinned between the two backing leaders tighten the tension like you would on a real quilt back, with the exception of placement. Notice in the photo below that I have my A1 Quilting Machine pushed away from the fabric as far as it will go (bumping up against the table stop). Line this area up to the edge of the exposed canvas being careful NOT to hit the pins.

This is how I cheat the system and create my own accurate "channel lock". I will now stitch a straight line across the bottom backing leader, pressing my machine back against the roller to force an accurate straight line.

Once I did that I found my dad's tape measure, ya'know, the metal type that is used in woodworking, and found the exact center of my roller (I have a 12 foot table with 11 foot of canvas on the roller, so my center was at 70 inches) I then used a sharpie to mark my center.

Now it's time to sew on the zipper for this side.

Side note here, the set of zippers for my leaders included three male sides of the zipper (sides with the pull tab) and 6 female sides of the zippers (sides without the pull tab) - this gives me 3 to attach to the canvas and the other 6 to use to attach to my quilt backing (2) and top (1) making two sets to be able to alternate quilts. I will be offering zipper sets for sale in the up coming weeks, if interested see my email address below. Your set may include 3 males and 6 females OR 3 females and 6 males...I know this sounds goofy, but think about it - 6 full sets of zippers are split to accommodate 2 machines. It's more economical -Trust me on this one. If you purchase from another supplier I have no idea what you'll get (grin) so follow their instructions.

Okay, so determine which way your set is, more males or more females. The easiest way to do this is to zip up three sets and the left over three sides will be your additional sides to pin a second quilt to. Set these aside right now so you don't get confused. Which ever side you have three of will be the side sewn to the canvas.

Here's another free suggestion (grin) on the zipper sides that I have 6 of (the ones I will be pinning or basting to in the future) I added a small muslin flap to be able to have something to pin to. You will see this in the following photos as I have written on them "top backing" and "bottom backing" so I'd know how to load the quilt. True confessions, I only did this for one set and have good intentions of doing this for the second. The third zipper that I used for the quilt top I marked in one inch increments to aide in centering the quilt top...but again, good intentions of adding a small muslin flap to aid in the basting I hope to do with my Cover Pro. For the record, I've pinned on the edge of the zipper for a number of years and haven't worn it out yet, so you don't have to add a fabric edge if you don't want to.

Regardless of your decision to add a fabric extension or to mark your own measuring tape right on the side of the zipper you must determine and some how mark for reference which side of the zipper will be sewn on the canvas leader and which side will be the removable side for pinning/basting the quilt.

These photos are of the top take up leader canvas, you can see where the fabric extension is going toward the black fabric pinned between the leaders - think of this as your quilt. You must stitch the zipper where it will separate on the proper side for future pinning/basting.

This step is really very simple. Mark the center of the zipper and match to the center of the leader canvas. Position the zipper to where your sewing line will be the same straight line you stitched in the earlier section. Using the same method of pushing the machine back as far as it will go to force that straight line, stitch from the center out using your hoping foot as a guide against the zipper teeth.

Above I've lifted up the zipper set to show you how I am indeed stitching right over that earlier line. This is what will give you a straight zippered leaders which is what we all desire to have straight finished quilts.

Once I completed sewing from the center to one side I repeated and went from the center to the other side. Be forewarned, the end of the canvas is sorta tricky and may not end up being professionally neat, but it'll figure out what I'm talking about as you do this, for one thing, the machine will not be able to go the full length because it just can't (grin) BUT you can move the canvas and zipper to go to the needle where the needle can't go to it. Trust me, it makes sense when you do this. Again, the last few inches aren't going to be perfect, so just be humble and accept this.

The photo above shows how the zipper set looks once you lift it up to see what's under it. Yep, there's leftover canvas and those pins. The pins will come out later, of course, and you will be left with this raw edge. We'll talk about that a little later so hold on.

Now it's time to advance our fabric and canvas leader to the area where the bottom backing leader is in a position to repeat the process of creating a "channel lock" with the machine pushed all the way against the top bar and making a straight line across the entire length of the canvas.

Sorta see one, do one (grin) You are simply doing the same thing - but notice that your zipper teeth will be different - you must make sure that your free side, or the side that you will be pinning/basting to, is towards the fabric in the center.

Match the centers and repeat the process of sewing on the zipper along the straight edge previously created.

Okay, I might add here the notes I made on my muslin flap -- I wanted to make sure when I'm pinning/basting the quilt back that I know which zipper goes where. I have also marked the center so that when zipped together I know that my fabric is indeed centered on the frame - something that I found to be a purer center with the zippered leaders vs the Velcro leaders - at least it worked the best for me. On my second set of zippers I will actually zip them on and mark against the stationary side and label as which one they are (top backing, bottom backing, quilt top bottom) so that I will consistently use the right zippers for the right position. Just a safe guard in making sure everything lines up as it should.

Okay, so away we go. Place the zipper set on the canvas matching centers and stitch from the center to one side, then from the center to the other side, getting creative on those last few inches (grin)

Remember I mentioned those raw edges on the back side? Well, if they bother you, you can either trim them with pinking shears or actually fold under and hem which is a lot of trouble but can be done - I suggest if you want to do this that you enlist a friend to help you sew...I've done this before, used my extended base, folded the canvas under, put my needle in the down position, sat at the front of the machine using both hands and having my friend 'drive' the machine from the other side stopping and starting for me to reposition the fabric and my hands - way too much trouble if you ask me! So this time around I'm just ignoring them - they won't inhibit the fabric of either my quilt backing or top since these will be pinned to the further most side. To some this may seem unfinished or unprofessional, but to me, this is just another tool that aides in my work, it doesn't have to be pretty or perfect. The choice is certainly yours.

Okay. So now you have two out of three zippers put on. Pat yourself on the back! It wasn't that hard now was it? To do the third zipper on the quilt top take up roller you will need to unpin the backing bottom take up roller and repin the fabric to the quilt top take up roller. You will be doing the same process of stitching a straight line then positioning your zipper and stitching from center to side, then center to other side. Ta-da - that's all there is to doing it the way I did today!

Here's the home made video to share more details with you. Again, forgive the boo-boos, I can't edit video (heck, I'm lucky to just know how to do it considering it's not done on a real video camera). If you think this is goofy you should see the bloopers!

Again, I will be making zipper sets available for sale in the near future so if you are interested you may contact me at for pricing information.

2/28/11 Be sure to read "part two" on loading a quilt with zippered leaders - you will see the new fabric attachments I made for the zippers as well as how to pin or baste the quilt.

8/11 Zippers are in! Available for 10 foot tables and 12 foot tables in a beautiful PURPLE! Visit my website and "contact us"

***please note - while the information contained in this post is still useful I no longer carry zippers for longarms. Unfortunately I do not have a referral source. Karen 3.1.16***


BobbieJo said...

Thanks for posting this, i made zippered leaders but did it backwards, i attatched them to fabric and then tried to stitch the fabric to the leader and it was wavy and unuseable. I appreciate your taking the time to do this, now mabey i can utilize all the zippers i bought!

Randi said...

Good job on the video! You are so cute, too! :-)

kathi said...

thanks for the good info. If i ever finally break down and put on those zippered leaders i will try to follow your instructions. I must be getting old. the thought of making sure this male goes with that female. and the right direction. My mind just goes BZZZZZZ.. i know people love them. I just don't "get" all the details and the "how to's".. guesse i'll keep pinning for mw. oh myyy.

Karen E. Overton said...

If you enjoyed this post, why not check out "part two"

Also check out my website as I am now offering a set of PURPLE leaders for 12 foot tables. thanks for reading my rambles!

Jeanne said...

Thank you for posting the tutorial on attaching zippers and loading a quilt. It will help me so much. Now I can use what I purchased.
I also sent you a private email.

It's a blessing for you to share. Thank you!

PS. When will your website be finished with updates? Thanks!